Two Sundays Till Pentecost
Psalm 73

© Copyright 2010  Rev. Bill Versteeg


Brothers and sisters in Christ:
In some parts of the Reformed tradition throughout the world, the church has been in the practice of regarding some of the Sundays before Pentecost as a season of prayer: a waiting prayer of hungering and thirsting for a fresh outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit into our lives after the very clear instruction of Jesus “Wait until you are clothed with power from on High.”
The intent of this morning’s message, and next Sunday morning’s message will be to encourage that prayer. For that purpose we turn to Psalm 73.

 Psalm 73
A psalm of Asaph.
1 Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from the burdens common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How can God know?
Does the Most High have knowledge?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always carefree, they increase in wealth.

13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes,
so when you arise, O Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

The Premise of God’s Promises
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
Certainly that is true. God’s faithfulness continues to all generations. With him there is no change of heart or mind. He is faithful always and that - flawlessly. Would not Isreal say to each other “Can a mother abandon the baby that feeds from her breast?” Look, we are engraved on the Palm of His hand, he cannot forget us. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
We live by the same premise. That God is good, we hardly question. That he is the definition of faithfulness and truth we accept from scripture. He has promised, he will never leave us or forsake us. He promises to give us good gifts. He would never give us a stone for bread or a scorpion for a fish. If we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more our Father in heaven who majors in giving the good gift of his Holy Spirit to those who ask him? And did he not call the Spirit a fortaste of our inheritance to come, something which is ours by right as the children of God simply because we are God’s children? Wasn’t the church promised the Spirit of power? Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

Problems with the Premise
Asaph, the writer of this first of the third book of the Psalms was struggling. He had kept his heart pure and yet he struggled, he found keeping himself faithful was hard work, there was nothing easy about living his life in faithfulness to God. There was nothing easy about living the life of a truly circumcised Israelite. If the premise of the promises was true, it sure didn’t feel like it was working for him.
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
Faith in the God of promises is a hard and dry journey when his presence is distant and the fulfillment of his promises withheld. This was true for Asaph, it was also true for David.

Psalm 42:1–3 (NIV)
1As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Jesus promised us his Holy Spirit. Didn’t Jesus say on the last and greatest day of the Feast: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him!” And by that, was he not referring to the Holy Spirit that is to be ours? How is it then that the Christian life can be so dry? Do we feel different from David, panting just for a hint of God let alone a flowing river? Where is the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control when we wake up every morning struggling with the opposites, hints of hatred in our hearts, depression, anxiety, impatience, legalism, our not goodness, our bull in a china shop syndrome, our lack of reliability, and an unbridled tongue? Where is that power-filled Christian life where the gifts build up the body, not just from a few but from all God’s gifted people? And he promised the gift of the Spirit so that we would be witnesses wherever we are! Why are we so willing to speak about the Canuks and so unwilling, or unable, or fearful of publicly praising Christ? Have we kept our hearts pure? Have we received the promised blessing of the Holy Spirit? Is it ours in experienced reality? Or is it just words? Just words, just words, just words, just words

The Peril of the Problem
Asaph felt his emptiness and struggle. Asaph felt faith’s contradiction of promises not yet delivered. And he came very close to having his feet slip from under out of him like dress shoes on wet ice when he saw culture around him.
After all, he saw how they were doing. They were prosperous, rich, they didn’t seem to have the struggles and the internal contradiction he had, they were healthy and strong, without ills, unburdened by the concerns of this world. They were powerful and willing to use that power to fulfill their own self centered evil plots. And they claimed their goodness, they deserved heaven, their lives on earth was but a foretaste of things to come. Heaven their future, earth their oyster. For hope people would turn to them, their power, their riches, their strength, their answers to life’s dilemmas and they had water in abundance. They were carefree. Their money seemed to grow on trees. By their wicked actions they called into question the very existence of eternal justice, the very existence of a God who is just and true, a God who knows what is really going on and will work justice in the end.
We too are in peril. Don’t you feel the danger close by? We live in a culture of excess, waste, self centeredness, me first, remember the poor if you have some left over. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Systemic corruption can no longer be cured by the force of political power. We live in a culture that is openly mocking faith ridiculing us. “How can you be so stupid as to believe that there is a God?” We live in a pluralistic culture that pressures us to at least consider all beliefs equal and since so many of their teachings are contradictory to one another, all beliefs are equally meaningless. Entertainment is the food that fills our culture’s emptiness. Busyness the source of our meaning and significance. Yet it looks so good that all the world it seems would find our culture the promised land flowing with milk and honey.
Don’t you sense the danger? The danger that our feet might slip off of the ground of faith? Don’t you see how good this world has it? The peril that we, instead of struggling with the apparent contradictions of faith might simply adopt our cultures values and live a nominal faith where we accept that our religion is powerless and though we might say that God is, that he is a God of justice, in the end we live like its only words, only words, only words, only words...
It may be that some of us here are by our behaviours saying that our faith is only words. Meaningless. We are here because we are nominal Christians, by name only Christians, just words, only words, only words.
We who hunger for the Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, don’t you sense the peril? The peril that we will simply compromise our pure heartedness, compromise our hunger for God, compromise our diligent pursuit of God, compromise so that all the riches and entrapments of our culture are for us and that in the end, our religion and its God is actually powerless, or blind, or at least far away and disinterested in our lives. “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” they say!

Persisting in the Promises
Asaph found the capacity to persist in his hunger for the presence of God by one thing - prayer. He entered the Sanctuary of God. He came into the very presence of God. In the OT, that was the Holy of Holies, since that was allowed only to the chief priest once a year, he probably is referring to the presence of God in prayer. He came to God in prayer where perspective was given, his capacity to see was no longer limited to his own eyes, he saw his world and culture with larger more distant horizons. He saw the big picture.

And there he understood the issue of final destinies. He saw that even though he struggled, that struggle was the struggle of faith, of belief, of trusting the true promises of God. And he saw that the wicked, while their lives were on shake ground. As for the wicked, like cattle they are being fattened but their feet are all ready slipping in the blood of those who have gone before them to the slaughter. They will be cast down to ruin, suddenly they will face judgement. For there is a God of justice, there is a God who in the end will evaluate all things, judge all things, there is a God who is true to his promises.
Wo to those who are filled now, for they will become empty. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” Asaph understood that hunger, hunger for the presence, hunger for God is its own reward, as for me, it is good to be near God.

He chose with uncompromising resolve to count all worthless except to know his God. Glory was his future, God himself his refuge and inheritance. Nothing else compared.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Two weeks, two weeks till Pentecost. Is in the end God, his presence by the power of the Spirit your hunger in life? Will you with me avoid the compromise and choose that God, God alone is our portion forever. Will you choose hunger of fullness? Poverty over riches? Mourning over empty comfort? Meekness of using power for selfish reasons? Mercy over legalism? Peacemaking over winning now ? Trials, even persecution over fitting in and prosperity in our the world. Purity in heart over compromise as you hunger for the promise of God’s Spirit.
It is two weeks till Pentecost. God has made his promise
Acts 1:4–5 NIV
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”


 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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